Sophie Adnitt reviews Spamilton – An American Parody which is now playing at Menier Chocolate Factory.
Gerard Alessandrini is best known as the man behind Forbidden Broadway, the definitive parody revue poking fun at every Broadway hit since the 1980s, so it really was only a matter of time before he turned his attention to behemoth smash Hamilton.
Admittedly, Jest End somewhat beat them to the punch (in London at least) with their 2016 number Any Chance to Ham It Up, but Spamilton is less reaching, if only just. Whilst Jest End trimmed its best Hamilton jokes into one song, Spamilton drags its concept out over 85 rather baffling minutes.
Morgan Large’s set design cleverly scales down the wood and rope of the original set into something far more compact.We meet a nameless cast dressed in the iconic Hamilton cream and beige costume, who switch between roles at impressive speed, plus Liam Tamne as Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. In full ponytail and goatee get up there’s certainly a resemblance, especially when Tamne channels Miranda’s trademark enthusiasm. Onstage for most of the night, Tamne seems to have inexhaustible energy, flinging himself through song after song with no sign of tiring.
What follows this introduction is a relentless barrage of material that barely pauses for breath. But despite the fact this is marketed as a Hamilton spoof, there’s plenty of mockery aimed towards other shows. From Book of Mormon to The Lion King, even in a show not strictly about them, nobody is safe.
Eddie Elliot is superb, if under-used, as a Leslie Odom Jnr/Aaron Burr figure, and Julie Yammanee thrives under the pressure of almost every other female role in the show (her Barbra Streisand had me in fits). Sophie-Louise Dann is hilarious as a range of musical theatre divas (her Elaine Paige is hysterically spot on), but her overall purpose in proceedings is left as something of a mystery.
Damian Humbley is also brilliant as King George III, despite the curious stance taken in suggesting that King George is loathed within the fanbase. The reality is that on both sides of the Atlantic he routinely gets the biggest cheer of the night. If this show is aimed towards Hamilton fans, the audience is probably be well aware of this.
There’s an almost embarrassing amount of material about original Broadway cast member Daveed Diggs, and not all of it is particularly flattering – or funny. But the point remains that many UK-based Hamilton fans won’t know who Diggs is, or why this is meant to be amusing. The original Schuyler sisters get a shout out too; “Renee Elise, Jasmine, Philippa, work!” Again, this is lost on many who have little experience with the Broadway cast. Spamilton can’t quite decide how niche it wants to be, but it also can’t decide how cruel to be either. Most of the jokes are affectionate in their mockery, but some border too sharply on unkind.
But when the jokes do land they’re very, very funny. A send up of Sondheim (Another Hundred Syllables) is brilliantly done and the unquestionable highlight of the show is the ingenious The Film When it Happens, where the Odom character laments how he’ll be shunned in favour of star casting. There’s plenty of decent material here for a solid collection of sketches, but not enough for a whole show. After an hour it begins to become wearing. In the programme, Alessandrini states that he believed a Hamilton spoof needed a full show, not just one Forbidden Broadway song. I respectfully disagree.
There’s fleeting references to Miranda’s side projects and TV appearances which get lost in the fray, as well as a time travel subplot which gets picked back up every so often, but again doesn’t serve much purpose A Meghan Markle joke inserted for the UK take of this show comes across as (sorry) ham-fisted, whilst Cameron Mackintosh, surely an obvious target, gets off suspiciously scot-free. And surely there’s rich pickings for parody in a British audience who cheer when the Americans win their independence?
Musical geeks and theatre luvvies will find plenty to laugh at here, but the casual fans of the original show will be left confused. And when your best gags are the ones that are nothing to do with your source material, that’s not the most promising sign. Still, despite its confused construction, Spamilton has its fair share of laugh out loud gems, witty observations and smart rhymes for those in the know. For the dedicated Hamilfans, it’s very much worth a watch.